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Great leadership is timeless

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  • By Chief Master Sgt. Jimmy Williams
  • 90th Mission Support Group chief enlisted manager
I recently had the honor of attending an NCO Academy graduation ceremony at Peterson Air Force Base, Colo. This ceremony featured Chief Master Sgt. of the Air Force Robert Gaylor, the 5th CMSAF, as the guest speaker. Gaylor joined the Air Force in 1948, and in 1977 he became the 5th CMSAF. During his presentation, he shared with us highlights of his career and those leaders who helped shape and influence him. Though extremely entertaining to listen to, his message was very clear: a leader will have a definite impact on a subordinate's career. The other part of his message was to be the best leader you can, and have a positive impact on those around you. Fortunately for our United States Air Force, Gaylor had great leaders guiding him.

During our career journey, we have several opportunities to observe leaders in action. Great leaders are found at all levels of ranks and positions. Don't believe that you shouldn't observe those leaders who may have less rank than yourself. You could be missing out on a great opportunity. I have had several great leaders influence me during my career; however, the three that stand out are Master Sgt. Melvin Williams, Chief Master Sgt. Andy Laning and Gen. Colin Powell -- three leaders from very different backgrounds.

Williams was my father. He was a leader in and out of uniform. He taught me valuable life and career skills including treating everyone with respect and integrity. He served 20 years in our Air Force and retired in 1975. His influence was clearly the foundation for my leadership style. Laning sponsored me into the first sergeant career field. He taught me the fine art of this mastering this very dynamic position which included learning how positive leadership can impact others. Laning was a first sergeant for 18 years. Powell became very visible to me during Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm. During this eight-month deployment, I came to appreciate Powell's style of leadership. To this day, I still use his quotes to illustrate points. The influence these leaders had on me has shaped my leadership style over the years.

Those who have heard me speak at any professional development venue know that I try to deliver specific messages. I will briefly describe two of them. Powell stated
"The day soldiers stop bringing you their problems is the day you have stopped leading them. They have either lost confidence that you can help them or concluded that you don't care. Either case is a failure of leadership." What culture have you developed to ensure this doesn't happen? My other message is: never forget where you came from. This lends itself to being empathetic to the life struggles that your subordinates are challenged with. I joined this Air Force with zero stripes and have certainly not forgotten the challenges along the way during my almost 30 years!

What about you? What will your leadership legacy be? My message is simply this: be the best leader that you can be! The challenges imposed on our military personnel and our mission demands it. Who knows, you just may have unknowingly influenced and shaped the next CMSAF!